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Sag Harbor’s Mojo Is On The Rise

T.J. Clemente

The author with Tiger Woods' super yacht. (Courtesy Photo)

In the last few years Sag Harbor has become the "hottest hamlet" in the Hamptons with a vibrant Main Street and is "the place to promenade" late summer afternoons. On any given afternoon you might pass a Christie Brinkley, a Susan Sarandon or have Billy Joel pass you on one of the many motorcycles he garages there.

Then there are the Super Yacht folks. I specifically received a huge kick sailing my sailboat past Tiger Wood's yacht "Privacy" tucked away down on the Sag Harbor wharf in the billionaire's section. When I first started covering Sag Harbor back in 2005 for an East End weekly publication Sag Harbor was in transition.

Over the years I have reached out for quotes and stories about Sag Harbor. Then I went back to some reporting from over a decade ago. Here are some success stories that help explain how Sag Harbor has evolved. For the last 42 years Romany Kamoris has been marketing her stained-glass art in Sag Harbor. What started on card tables back in 1977 is now encompassed in her shop on Main Street near the American Hotel. Romany, who is of eastern Slovakian decent, was born and raised in Milwaukee. She came to New York to study dance and movement therapy at NYU, but found glass, and glass blowing, fascinating and got involved in what was to become her life's work. Living in the Village (NYC) she missed the water of the shores of the Lake Michigan, so Sag Harbor was suggested to her as a place with "lots of artist and lots of water." Romany told me back in 2012, "When I arrived I 1977, Sag Harbor was a place with lots of small galleries and lots of fine crafts like pottery and ceramics; it was like a little Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village."

She set up her card table and sold small stained-glass objects that she made. She put a small ad in a local paper requesting stain glass commissions and landed a job in Bridgehampton. Her second job from that ad was at the Sag Harbor Jewish Temple. This success propelled Romany to rent some space on the edge of Sag Harbor Village in Rocco Liccardi's building in 1977. Five years later she moved to the old Sag Harbor Post Office space and landed a commission to do the large 60-foot stain glass window on Route 27 in Bridgehampton.

In 1992, given the grace of 30 days notice to move her business of 10 years, Romany went across the street and bought the 1850s building the Romany Kramoris Gallery now calls home. Romany summed up her Sag Harbor experience by saying, "Everybody seems to be happy that I am here, I am happy I am here."

One of the staple pillars of authenticity is the American Hotel. There are just places that when you walk in, history starts to talk to you. Owner Ted Conklin's The American Hotel in Sag Harbor is without a doubt still such a place. The hotel rose from the ashes of Sag Harbor's original hotel, The Howell Inn, which along with the Phelps Hotel, was destroyed in the great fire of 1845. In 1846 the present hotel building opened wisely built of bricks, many of which you still see today. This is because of Ted's vision. In 1972 President Richard Nixon was in a campaign against Senator George McGovern for the presidency. The Beatles had just officially broken up, and the Vietnam War was still in full rage. It is unbelievable that a twenty-two-year-old (Ted Conklin) of that moment would have the desire and the vision, to take a part of Sag Harbor's past and restore it, then preserve it for its future. Perhaps Ted Conklin has done well with his investment, but the true riches of his enterprise has been shared with the tens of thousands of people who have walked into his establishment and smiled knowing it is something very special. I believe nobody who has never been in the hotel before ever left without gaining something.

When you stroll into the doors of the Sag Harbor Variety Store, a "5 & 10 cents store," located at 114 Main Street in Sag Harbor you go back in time, back to the time as a child when you first walked into such a store. The smell of candy, the feel of the wooden floor, the nine aisles of everything from those toys to Tupperware never changes. Back in 2013, Lisa Field, the manager and daughter of original owners Phil and Roseann Bucking, was kind enough to share the magic of what makes a 5 and 10 store timeless. With more than 20,000 different items in stock, she told me then the inventory is still the same as when her dad in his 30s left the Bulova Watch Company to buy the business. "The bank would only lend him the money to buy the business from Mr. Hanson if he bought the building too," Lisa explained. "That was a great thing to do." Phil and Rose Bucking left the 5-cent Pepsi sign up along with the old cigarette's signs from the 1922 era when the store first opened. My favorite was the Hostess Cup Cakes "2 for 5 cents." This place still adds to the wonderful mojo of Sag Harbor.

Another unique old-time presence is Sag Harbor is Fishers Home Furnishings. What started as a vision of Robert and Susan Fisher over 40 years ago has manifested itself in a Hamptons tradition concerning tasteful home furnishings. Robert Fisher created tables. He created tables to order, from whatever wood or material the customer wanted it to be. He made it any size, and shape, any height and did it with the same skill that once had him as one of New York's premier antique table restorers so many years ago. Many customers to this day are repeat customers who come back to have Fisher's create another table of high quality and originality. James Otis, the patriot, once said, "A man's home is his castle." And at Fishers Home Furnishings there are custom items designed for that castle of yours.

I must also mention the wonderful Bay Street Theater sending "kudos" to Scott Schwartz and Tracy Mitchell because their programming choices keep Sag Harbor vibrant and relevant with a tasteful array of live performing arts such as new plays, comedy shows, musicals and musical acts like (Nancy Atlas and Friends) and always reasonably priced. On weekends all year-round there is always a wonderful buzz around the theater. Sometimes before Bay Street shows on summer evenings I get over to the nearby Dock House for a lobster roll and afterwards work my way over to take a peek at the latest artist showings at Laura Grenning's Grenning Gallery.

One of the hottest dining spots in recent years in Sag Harbor is Dopo la Spiaggia. The food there is always wonderfully presented and prepared perhaps like only a handful of places east of the Shinnecock Canal. Celebrities, locals, and folks like my wife and I enjoy the fanfare of the friendly warm atmosphere of a dinner date there. So, I reached out for a quote for this story to the owner Maurizio Marfoglia about the "mojo" of Sag Harbor. Mr. Marfoglia's quote sums up everything I was attempting to tie together in this piece. He said, "The vibe in Sag Harbor is better than ever. We year-round residents realize how lucky we are to call this magical place our home, so there is a constant undercut of respect and love for Sag that is palpable."

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